This morning at our Principal’s Community of Schools meeting the conversation focused on the newest iteration for our process of documenting school improvement. During my 15 years as a school administrator, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of school communities as we identified our most pressing need, listed the strategies that we needed to implement to make a difference, measured the success of the implementation of the strategies and then reflected on where to land next. And over the years, I’ve used a variety of board generated templates (some with more success than others).
In my first school, the board wide focus was on literacy and more specifically our DRA scores. Strategies included the creation of elaborate DRA walls where we measured and monitored our students’ mastery of reading levels. If I recall correctly, the focus was so narrow that each school had to predict and work towards attaining a specific percentage of DRA scores which would improve. The template was cumbersome and labour intensive to complete, but we could all recite our School Goal.
A few years later, Ministry documents, such as the School Effectiveness Framework became pivotal in our goal setting work and schools were provided with more latitude to select goals based on both large scale and school based data. I recall conversations with my SO at the time asking if we could include a math goal along with our literacy goal as the two go hand in hand in terms of best practices for both instruction as well as assessment. It was a struggle, but with a little bit of convincing we were able to include both goals. The template was more user friendly and hence more effective to share with all stakeholders.
Fast forward to 2013 and once again a new way of thinking (and a new template) guided our work as instructional leaders. School communities were provided with the latitude to select one of four quadrants and select objectives within their chosen quadrant to measure and monitor their work within. However, it quickly became apparent that such latitude was not the desired outcome and within a couple of years, the four quadrants were reduced to one quadrant (with a specific and narrow focus on math).
This past year, the focus within the one quadrant became even more narrow, to the point that schools were asked to select one of three math objectives and as a result of attending any system professional learning, the actual wording for the specific goal was provided, along with the strategies and the wording to include on the template. The platform for the template may have created the conditions for system level data collection, based on repeated words, etc., but from an end user lens, it was not friendly in the least. School leaders were starting to have conversations about the fact that our laser focus on math was creating gaps in the learning and documenting student achievement in literacy.
Today’s unveiling of the SIPSAW “School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement and Well Being” is a much welcomed return to the sound practice of ensuring that schools take responsibility to do the work of determining their own current needs, to develop success criteria that is meaningful for them and to creating their own monitoring and measuring structures.
I loved diving deep in conversation with trusted and respected colleagues who were immediately embracing this opportunity to authentically do the work of school improvement planning and not just try and replicate a one size fits all model. I walked away feeling excited about being able to truly co-construct our SIPSAW with our community members, instead of just sharing a generic SIP.
As a new school, we have some unique areas that require our dedicated focus and deserve to be documented. This new lens will help us do the work that is most important for us.
Come write with me…